A Little Too Much:
Jess knows with absolute certainty that when looking back on this moment in months to come, it will fall firmly within the 'bad decisions' category.
She hadn't really thought this through at all before dashing out of the loft, and was only now remembering why Jessica Day is such a methodical planner in all other aspects of her life: Because when she tries spontaneous acts such as this, they always seem to turn out very poorly indeed.
Her intentions were good - as always - but upon reflection, Jess realises that following her ex-boyfriend to his first date since their break up is completely insane and crosses a million and one lines she never thought she would have to encounter.
Face in hands, she sits defeated on the hard, wooden floor until the noise of a chair scraping along the ground has her head snapping back up instantly. Her eyes widen in fear as a pair of stiletto-ed feet fly close to her face, causing Jess to suck in a silent breath whilst trying to somehow will herself invisible as a couple take their seats either side of her. A man's brown, suede shoes land next to her curled up legs with force, making her tuck every limb as tightly in to her body as humanly possible to try and avoid detection.
Jess is ridiculously uncomfortable, and pretty sure that cramp is going to set in any moment now - but there is no way she is getting out from under this table and exposing her presence to Nick.
No. Freaking. Way.
When Jess had arrived at the restaurant, she faltered slightly at the doors. She'd seen Nick off to one corner being shown to his table and had found her legs suddenly heavy as concrete and rooted to the pavement. Her grip tightened on the handle and she started to rethink the whole thing.
What was she even going to do once she was in there, anyway?
After overhearing Nick confirm to Winston that he was going out on a date that night whilst she did her laundry, Jess had been entirely surprised by the bile that had risen so suddenly to her throat. The last time she'd felt heat spike up her back that way was after seeing him with Shane in The Griffin that time…
She'd tried to push it away, really – she had. An enormous mug of chamomile tea and a stern talking to herself had allowed the worst of the feelings to subside. This was helped along in no small part by the adorable text messages she had received from Ryan telling her how excited he was about the meal she was cooking him tonight. Jess began to feel a little guilty. She had a lovely guy who appeared to be totally into her, yet here she was feeling these… things …about her ex-boyfriend going on a date.
It was crazy.
So she shook it off, and busied herself with preparing the food for later that night. Her choco-berry souffle was going to knock Ryan's quaint, British socks off.
All was going swimmingly, and Jess only half-registered the familiar smell of Nick's cologne as he waved his goodbye and exited the loft later that evening. Her downfall had been walking past Schmidt's room. The door was ajar, meaning that Jess could hear everything he and Winston were discussing. Of course, the hot topic was Nick and his date, so she did her best to block out as much as she could. But then she heard an exchange that made her lose her grip on a carton of evaporated milk, causing it to drop onto the counter and spatter a little polka dot pattern in front of her.
"Look, I'm just pleased that Nick's finally getting himself back on the love wagon. That boy has some wild pent-up sexual frustration going on right now. The other day I'm sure I caught him staring longingly at one of my shower loofahs - and I haven't felt comfortable using it since…"
"Mmhmm. And this isn't just any love wagon, Schmidt…it's Suzy Cooper's love wagon. That girl's gonna gobble him up and spit him out whole. I'm telling you, Nick ain't ready!"
What. The. Hell?
Suzy Cooper was a few years older than Nick, twice divorced and could be found hanging out at the bar most nights drinking away her settlement money. Rumour had it that there was a third husband who suspiciously 'disappeared' and was never seen again – It was all just hear-say…but Winston always claimed to have seen her wearing a man's watch after talk had started to circulate. Now she spent her days sizing up the clientele inside The Griffin, regardless of their marital status or whether they had a job.
Now that she thought about it, Jess had caught Suzy watching Nick intently from across the bar on several occasions back when they'd been a couple…
No way, no how.
In a moment of sheer spontaneity, Jess flung off her apron and dusted the flour from her blouse. She grabbed a hair scrunchie from the bowl on the side table at the door and tugged her hair back in a ponytail whilst simultaneously slipping on the first pair of shoes that her gaze landed upon. She would not stand by and watch Nick get taken for a ride by that floozy. Jess had to do something to keep him safe from Suzy's clutches.
And not because of any residual feelings she had about him, of course.
No, this was purely coming from a place of platonic concern for his well-being.
As a friend.
Snatching her purse from the couch and throwing in her phone, Jess was just about to march out of the loft when she caught sight of Nick's blue cap hanging up by the door with their jackets.
The view was jarring, air catching in her throat as she took a moment to lay her fingers on the worn material of the peak. As her thumb stroked across a loose thread, the corner of her mouth quirked into a smile, a pang of longing for simpler times washing over her. Jess closed her eyes and swallowed down the memories of the Edgar/Pepperwood debacle. She shook her head, determined.
Not now. She had work to do…
Flinging the apartment door open, she made a grab for Nick's cap and tucked it into her purse before rushing her way to the elevator and out of the building.
The underside of the table rubs the top of Jess's head, pushing the peak of Nick's cap down over her eyes. She prods it back up and tries her best to stretch her neck side to side as she feels the muscles beginning to seize up. A sneeze starts to tickle inside her nose and Jess pinches her nostrils hard together to force it away. She lets herself think that maybe the situation is not quite as bad as first thought – sure, she was stuck underneath the table of two strangers in a high brow restaurant whilst trying to spy on her ex-boyfriend, but on the plus side - she had successfully avoided detection up until this point.
That was a win, given the circumstances.
She just needs to sit tight and wait it out, making a dash for the door once the couple leave. Nick would probably be so engrossed in his date by then, he wouldn't notice if she was fast enough. Jess figures she could sneak out the same way she came in, and no one would ever have to know about her momentary lapse in sanity. She could pretend to Ryan that her car had broken down whilst heading to the store for more cooking supplies…and he might even believe it.
Jess ducks her head down further, risking a glance out across the restaurant from underneath the almost-floor length tablecloth. She thinks she can see Nick's leg moving agitatedly from beneath his table some way off.
There's the swell of something in her stomach and Jess chastises herself as the realisation of what she's actually doing hits her. She's behaving like some irrational idiot - something she'd always promised herself she wouldn't do when it came to her and Nick post break-up.
A waitress arrives at the table blocking her view, and Jess recognises the black leather boots as those belonging to the older lady who had been the reason she ended up under the table in the first place. Her lip curls in contempt as she remembers how close she'd been to finding the perfect spot to sit unnoticed. A spot from which she could have retreated immediately once the stupidity of her actions had dawned upon her…
Upon entering the building, Jess had noticed there was a cloakroom to the far side of the restaurant, next to which sat several large plants of heavy foliage. Dotted along the wall behind them were some very expensive looking stools for customers to wait for service. She did her best to look as inconspicuous as possible whilst heading over for cover, sliding Nick's blue cap down on to her head and grabbing a menu for added authenticity, using it to shield herself from view. She was almost to safety when a short, heavy-set waitress stepped right in to her path with a smile so forced that Jess thought it must be causing the lady physical pain.
"Can I help you, ma'am?"
"Oh!" Jess reared backwards, glancing hastily to her right and breathing a silent sigh of relief when she saw Nick bending down to tie his laces "No…no, thank you. I'm just waiting for someone."
"Do you have a reservation?" The waitress peered over the top of her glasses with a look of mild consternation.
"Tables are strictly on a reservation only basis. The signage at the front of the restaurant is very clear on that."
"Well, yes…" Jess faltered, manoeuvring herself as far around the older lady as she could so that her face would be hidden should Nick happen to glance up "…and that is lucky for me! You know…because I…do have one!"
"You do? Well why didn't you say so, honey? Come this way…"
Jess opened her mouth to speak but found herself being ushered further into the restaurant against her will by the now overly-helpful waitress.
"If you just wait here, I'll go and check that your table is ready – please do forgive my suspicious tone before – but you wouldn't believe the things people do and say to try and get a seat in here. It's cuckoo!"
Jess laughed nervously, all the while ensuring her back was facing Nick's table.
"Take a seat ma'am, I'll be right back – I just need the name of your reservation please?"
"That's right. The name it's booked in?"
The waitress looked at Jess expectantly, hands clasped together in front of her.
Jess's mind had gone blank and she stuttered uncomfortably, but then the older lady's gaze landed on the blue cap upon her head and Jess spat out the first thing that came into her mind.
Clearing her throat, Jess painted on a smile and lowered her voice through fear of detection.
"Pepperwood. Julius Pepperwood…that's the name the table is under."
"Oh, I see. Okay, well I'll be back in a moment – shall I take your bag and…your, uhh…your baseball cap?"
"No! I mean…no, thank you. I'll go and check these in myself."
The waitress nodded slowly with a bemused expression, disappearing over to the front desk giving Jess a few moments to wonder how the hell she was going to get herself out of this ridiculous situation. She looked over her shoulder. Nick was still by himself, but to get out of the restaurant now she would need to walk right past his table, and that was far too risky. From under the peak of her hat, she could see confusion playing across the face of the older lady as she searched the reservation book for Jess's non-existent Pepperwood entry.
Panic started to creep its way up her neck as Jess realised all her emergency exit routes were now off limits. The waitress was speaking to the manager, and looking over in Jess's direction. She gave a tight lipped smile and waved back, hoping to quell their growing suspicion long enough to find an out. The waitress frowned, her hands gesturing to the manager that they may need to call security, and Jess felt her stomach drop. At that moment, a large group of customers entered the restaurant and immediately gathered at the front desk. Jess knew she had mere seconds before being exposed, so used the only method of avoiding detection that was available to her at that point in time.
Underneath the empty table to her right.
Her hope was, of course, that the staff would assume she had left of her own accord and she would then be able to escape once they were busy elsewhere. What she hadn't bargained for, was the couple who took their seats at the exact same table no more than 5 minutes after she'd taken cover.
A fork clatters loudly to the floor just a few inches in front of her, and Jess's heart sinks, because she knows that within the next thirty seconds the game is going to be up.
Her fingers knit themselves together, the clammy palms making her grimace. Jess shakes her head and silently starts to think about whether Cece would consider letting her move in for a while – because there's no way Jess can go back to the loft after this.
The chair to her left shifts slightly as the diner makes a move for the floor. Jess fixes a smile to her face, tucks the loose hair behind her ear, and waits for the inevitable to happen as the female diner leans down to retrieve her cutlery.
The shocked squeal is louder than expected, and Jess scurries forward quickly to emerge from under the tablecloth in a flurry of profuse apology.
"Excuse me, sorry sir…pardon me ma'am…I love your shoes, by the way…"
She gets to her feet and faces the perplexed couple, dusting off her knees and desperately trying to think of some kind of reasoning she can offer that doesn't make her seem like a completely deranged person with a secret foot fetish.
Before she gets the chance, the waitress has dashed over at the speed of light.
"What on earth is going on here…wait…you?"
"Oh, hello…" Jess bows awkwardly.
The female diner is still squawking in the background, flapping around whilst the gentleman tries to calm her down, simultaneously gesturing for the management to come over.
"I'm going to have to ask you to leave – immediately" scolds the waitress "unless you'd rather I call security to escort you. I've never seen something so extraordinary in all my years of working here!"
"No, please!" begs Jess, her own actions becoming more animated "It's not what it looks like…and I know it looks weird. I was just looking for someone."
"Under our table?!" snaps the female diner, flicking her long blonde hair over one shoulder.
"No, I was just…" Jess's mind races for a feasible explanation "…my contact lens, I was looking for someone and, and my lens popped out and I think it went under your table and I was just..."
"This lady is crazy – what kind of place are you running here?" Exclaims the gentleman.
"Okay, I think we've heard enough - Security!" the waitress calls loudly.
Jess can feel waves of nausea rising from her gut, perspiration beading along her brow as her heart rate beats double-time. Everything starts to go a little blurry at the edge of her vision, the way a dream is never quite in clear focus. This is hands down one of the worst moments of her life, and she can't even bring herself to turn around to see if Nick was witnessing the whole thing.
As if the very thought of his being had some kind of power to conjure him, a familiar, gravelly voice reaches her ears from behind, rendering her motionless…
PART TWO COMING SOON...